Friday, December 9, 2011

Let Them Eat Cake!

Today was my last day in the cooking lab.  It was a sad day.  I've learned so much, met some fun people, and overall just had a great time.

Just a note before you go on to read about today's project, I thought I'd post a little ditty about cooking.  In the lab, we bake by flour weight.  Meaning, where normally you would measure by scale (cups, teaspoons, etc.), in this instance you weigh ingredients by their weight.  This is because flour is a fickle ingredient to weigh.  Have you ever made bread, cookies, cakes, etc, and one time it will be dense and dry, and the next time it will be very moist and fluffy?  It is because of how you measured your flour.  Flour is less dense than water.  Where 1 cup of water weighs as 8 ounces, 1 cup of flour weighs at about 4.8 ounces.  Also, people measure flour differently.  One person might pack in the flour, another might sift it.  This can make the flour measurement differ by a few tablespoons!  By measuring by weight, you get the same measurement whether you pack your ingredients or sift them.  By using this method of cooking, I have fallen in love with food scales.

Today we made desserts.  I made a white velvet butter cake with a white chocolate frosting.  Here's the recipe:

White Velvet Butter Cake
 (Makes 2-9” layer cakes)

1 cup milk
½ vanilla bean, split down the middle
6 oz butter, softened
10 oz sugar
5 egg whites
1 tsp vanilla
11 oz flour
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
Berry filling
White Chocolate Fudge frosting

1.  In a small pan, add milk and vanilla bean. Scald milk over medium heat, but do not boil. Set aside and let vanilla steep in warm milk 10 minutes. Scrape interior of bean into milk, then discard the outer pod.
2.  Using the paddle attachment of an electric mixer, cream butter until light. Add sugar and continue to cream until light and fluffy. Add egg whites one at a time to the creamed mixture, blending until completely incorporated after each addition. Scrape down sides of bowl before adding next white. Add vanilla to mixture with the last egg white.
3.  In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
4.  Add ¼ of the flour to the creamed mixture, mixing just to combine. Scrape down sides and blend into batter. Add ⅓ of the milk, mixing just until the liquid is incorporated into the batter. Continue adding alternate portions of flour and milk, mixing just to incorporate and scraping the sides of the bowl often.
5.  Divide the batter evenly (by weight – approximately 20 oz) into two greased and floured 9” layer pans. Bake at 375°F for 20 – 25 minutes, until the tops are golden and a cake tester comes out clean.
6.  Cool cakes 10 minutes in pans set on a wire rack. Turn out layers to cool completely.
7.  To assemble cake, spread berry filling evenly on one layer, avoiding the outer ½” of the cake. Set second layer on top, then frost top and sides of cake with white chocolate fudge frosting

Berry Filling

3 oz mixed berries (frozen works best)
1 – 2 Tbsp fat-free yogurt

1.  Combine berries and yogurt. Mix thoroughly and allow to sit 15 – 20 minutes or until completely thawed if frozen.
2.  Mash berries lightly with the back of a fork, breaking up large chunks. Spread berries and juice evenly over cake.

White Chocolate Fudge Frosting

2 oz water
1 oz shortening or butter
2 oz white chocolate, melted
⅛ tsp salt
1 lb powdered sugar
¾ tsp vanilla

1.  Bring water, shortening, and salt to a boil. Stir until shortening is completely melted.
2.  Transfer water mixture to the bowl of a mixer. Using the paddle attachment, completely mix in the powdered sugar.  Note:  This frosting does not get fluffy.  It should be thick, almost like fondant or play-doh.
3.  Add melted chocolate and vanilla, stirring to mix thoroughly through the frosting.
4.  While still warm but not hot, center the frosting between two large sheets of parchment or waxed paper (approximately 12" by 12").  Using a rolling pin, roll over the paper, spreading the frosting into a large circle, about a quarter-inch thick.  (If the frosting is too cool, it will be difficult to spread. If necessary, gently warm the bowl of frosting over a pan of hot water until it is fluid enough to pour.)  Carefully peel off the top layer of paper, and lay the frosting over the cake.  Very slowly and carefully peel back the paper, trying your best to not tear the frosting.  Using a sharp knife, cut the frosting around the base of the cake.  Smooth the frosting over the cake and its sides.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Candy Making Tips

With Christmas and New Years coming up, I thought I'd post some tips on candy making.

Tonight I decided I'd make caramels.  I've made them before successfully, so I wasn't too worried.  I didn't have any corn syrup on hand, so I used a different recipe that didn't call for corn syrup.  I put the ingredients in the pan, and while I was waiting for it to heat up, I ran upstairs to get my thermometer out of my cooking kit for my foods lab.  To my dismay, the thermometer I have only goes to 220 degrees, and my recipe said that the caramels would be done at 250 degrees.  So, I thought I'd just hope and pray, and eyeball it.

Fast forward to pullling the caramel out of the fridge, and it's a hard, grainy brick.

 I looked up "how to fix grainy caramel" on google, and I got 3 answers.  One, heating up the grainy mess in a double-boiler can melt the sugar crystals.  I still had a grainy blob of caramel-flavored sugar.  Second answer, adding corn syrup prevents sugars from crystallizing.  *Sigh.*  Now I wish I'd known that before endeavoring to make the darn candy.  Third, and most devastating, was that cooked and grainy caramel can seldom be fixed.

So, I learned that making caramel can be as temperamental as working with chocolate.  I groaned, mourned, stabbed the sugary ball with a wooden spoon a few times to let out my frustration, and with the same emotion I'd use for flushing a fish down the toilet, I pushed the sugary caramel into the disposal and said my goodbyes.  My poor attempt at caramel, may you rest in peace.

And on that same note, I'll post a few tips I've learned while making other candies.

With divinity, it should be made on a day with clear skies and a dry kitchen, since humidity can make it fail.  Also, to get the desired fluffiness of the candy, make sure you whip the egg whites (with no fat or yolk in it!)  to a stiff peak, and ever-so-gently fold in the other ingredients.  How do you fold in ingredients?  Using a large rubber spatula, scrape from the bowl, starting from the side furthest from you and sweeping it clockwise toward you.  Here's a great video demonstrating folding in whipped egg whites:

When working with chocolate, make sure when you are melting it, such as for dipping, that water never comes into contact with the chocolate.  What happens when water touches melted chocolate is called seizing. This can also happen when chocolate is melted for too long, such as when it is melted in the microwave.  Seized chocolate gets hard, becomes bitter, loses its molecular structure, and cannot be re-melted.  It is ruined, and all you can do is scream, groan, moan, cry, and try again with new chocolate.

I hope these tips help you when making candies.  Good luck, and Merry Christmas!